The Unfulfilled Promise of the International Religious Freedom Act

October 27, 2023

RFI President Emeritus Tom Farr wrote a piece today for RealClearPolitics about the “unfulfilled promise” of the International Religious Freedom Act, pointing to fundamental impediments, including ideological ones, to its full implementation in U.S. foreign policy. Farr writes:

Twenty-five years ago this month, a unanimous Congress passed the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. IRFA created a new office at the State Department, headed by an ambassador at large, with a mandate to condemn religious persecution and advance religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

At the time, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright resisted the law on behalf of the administration, arguing that religious freedom should not be given special treatment in U.S. diplomacy. Political realities (including President Clinton’s looming impeachment trial) induced the president to sign IRFA, but the Albright objection has survived to become a major impediment to the law’s successful implementation.

Achieving IRFA’s goals was never going to be easy. Religious freedom is viewed by many nations as a Western Trojan horse designed to undermine their own religions. Religious persecution is rampant and growing. Millions of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and countless other religious minorities live in constant fear of persecution, including unjust imprisonment, violent expulsion, torture, rape, kidnapping, and murder. The persecutors range from governments like China, Russia, and Iran, to Islamist terrorists, like Hamas and Hezbollah, supported by Iran.

But the potential of the new policy was considerable. Even partial success would relieve terrible human suffering and advance fundamental U.S. national interests. If anyone could pull this off, it would be America, whose founding commitment to religious freedom for all people was, and remains, unprecedented in history. IRFA’s opening sentence observed that religious freedom “undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States.”

Read the full article: “The Unfulfilled Promise of the International Religious Freedom Act.”